Paperless Manufacturing: Justifying the End of Paper Systems

Author LineView Admin, August 31, 2021

Manufacturing is becoming smarter all the time. Data has become arguably the most valuable business commodity, with companies keen to collect as much usable information as possible about their processes to make operations lean, efficient and reliable - and allow for swift, intelligent decision making.


Digitalisation is the path toward your factory of the future. Every aspect of manufacturing needs to interconnect and be part of the greater IIoT framework to fully realise Industry 4.0. 

The transition to paperless manufacturing is one of the first steps toward a factory of the future. Digitalising all operational data is essential for operators and machines to work together to maximise OEE and empower workers to stay engaged.

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Making the Transition to Paperless

Gen Z and millennials make up an increasingly large percentage of the workforce. These digital natives, who grew up on laptops and smartphones, are used to working paperless. That said, organisations can’t leave behind those workers who may be more comfortable with paper based manufacturing. The shift toward digitisation must be supported by reskilling workers with an intuitive and practical system put in place to make the transition smooth.

Despite occasional pushback from managers and operators, a paperless manufacturing solution is what will propel your factory into the future and set it up for long term and sustainable growth.


Benefits of Paperless Manufacturing

Digitalising manufacturing has a number of benefits from economic, to environmental, to human. We’ve seen over the course of 2020 and 2021 that society is ready for a paperless future. The rapid acceptance of online workplace solutions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has more than proven our collective capability to adapt to digital technologies.

If we can take one positive away from the pandemic it’s that – as a whole – we’re more prepared and ready to make the shift to digital. For manufacturing facilities, a transition to paperless operation is the first step to a smart, connected factory: the factory of the future is paperless.

1. Paperless Manufacturing Saves Money

There’s no question that going paperless saves money. The infrastructure supporting paper based manufacturing requires constant investment and upkeep. From the cost of consumables like paper, toner, pens, pencils and file folders, to the purchase and maintenance of printers and copy machines, paper based workflows can account for up to 3% of an organisation's revenue.

The use of paper also requires subsequent digitalisation of data. A seemingly redundant process that takes time to get information from paper onto a central database. This time is not only a labour cost – it also slows down the sharing and analysis of important operational information.

2. Data Can Be Used Instantly in a Smart Connected Factory

Digital logging of plant data – from quality checks, production data, and time sheets – is instantly and automatically shared in a central database like a cloud storage solution. In a connected factory, this information can be used in real-time by other machines and operators in the plant’s workflow. Changes in production can be made either by human operators or through AI that can optimise output through the correlation with other production data.

3. Paperless Shift Changeovers

A paperless, flexible digital system simplifies and enhances key processes reporting for shift changeovers. It incorporates and merges all required shift data including checks and KPIs for up to date and accurate reporting.

This type of system allows staff to log completed tasks, check the status of tasks and view outstanding items. Data can then be analysed for productivity trends and used for highlighting areas of focus for strategic decision making.

4. Data Management and Audit Readiness

Paperless manufacturing is the best solution for audit readiness. As data is entered into a digital database, key operational data from quality, to safety, to energy use, to production output is all systematically logged.

When it comes time for a scheduled – or even random – audit, data can be pulled instantly from any specific period. Not only does this save time, it best prepares the facility to undergo a successful and stress-free auditing process.

5. Standardisation and Optimisation

Paperless manufacturing facilitates standardised procedures that can be developed and automatically dispatched. When it comes time to make changes or add new procedures, digital forms and checklists can be easily updated and distributed through the cloud in seconds.

As plants move toward a smart connected factory, paperless manufacturing fits into their digitalisation journey. Standardising across facilities, comparing efficiencies and optimising production can be at your fingertips with paperless manufacturing and production tracking.

6. Paperless Manufacturing is Better for the Environment

Sustainable manufacturing is essential in achieving the factory of the future. A smart, connected factory provides insights to operators to fine-tune production output to minimise their environmental impact. Eliminating paper is only a natural extension on this planet-friendly journey.

Paperless manufacturing will reduce your factory’s carbon footprint. Going digital not only eliminates paper, printers and many of the traditional office supplies, a paperless manufacturing facility can eliminate the need for filing rooms and printing rooms, fundamentally altering the way plants and buildings can be designed.

With the right data storage solution (ideally on a secure cloud network) manufacturing data is more safe and secure – protected against the loss and degradation risks associated with paper.



Does Paperless Manufacturing Have Any Drawbacks?

There aren’t many reasons to be hesitant about going paperless. Sure, there will be growing pains during the transition. Reskilling is absolutely necessary to give staff the best chance at adapting to a paperless system – especially for less technology-literate staff and those people with accessibility limitations. Along with training, protocols must be set in place in order to maintain systematic and consistent data entry.

Paper is certainly easy and convenient. But paperless can be just as convenient if supplied with the right tools. Straightforward applications, fast-reacting hardware and a commitment to offer error-free and intuitive software is paramount to ensure a successful transition to paperless.


How to Make The Transition to Paperless Manufacturing

Whether it's your first or last step in your facility’s digital transformation, paperless operations empower teams and build end-to-end traceability across processes and across business units.

Paperless manufacturing requires the use of smart, intuitive data reporting technology. Software and hardware solutions need to be easy to use, error-free and fast loading. Paperless solutions will make reporting quicker and easier for operators, but it’s essential that the right package be selected for the manufacturing facility’s specific needs.

Your digitalisation journey toward Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future starts with moving to paperless manufacturing. For some, a slow transition may be the most effective to successfully implement. Other companies can dive head-first into completely paperless. The most important factor is investing in people and giving them an intuitive and efficient digital solution that makes their workday more fulfilling.


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